dunhill links championship
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Trio share first day honours

In-form Darren Clarke fired a five-under-par 67 to lie just one shot off the lead in the Dunhill Links Championship first round on Thursday.

The burly Northern Irishman, who won the World Golf Championship event in Ohio last month, took advantage of calm conditions at Carnoustie to finish a stroke behind Dane Soren Hansen, Gary Murphy of Ireland and Britain's Simon Yates.

The tournament is held at three different venues, with competitors playing one round each at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns before coming together on Sunday for the final 18 holes at St Andrews.

Clarke told reporters: "I was very pleased but we got very fortunate with the weather. The wind didn't blow that hard for us early on and to get Carnoustie out of the way in very good conditions was a big boost."

Clarke, who also finished fifth at last week's German Masters, is hoping to close the gap on European order of merit leader Ernie Els, who finished on level par following an up-and-down round of 72 containing four birdies and four bogeys.

"I would love to win the order of merit, it has been one of my goals for a long, long time but I have to play exceptionally well to catch Ernie," said Clarke, who went out in 34 before picking up three further shots on the back nine, only a bogey at the par-three 10th spoiling his card.

South African Els, the world number two, birdied Carnoustie's last hole but will need to find more inspiration around the greens to claim his seventh title of the year.

"I felt I missed a good opportunity," said Els. "When you play this course when it is as calm as this, you have to do better. My ball striking is still there but I have to work on my short game again."

Denmark's Hansen birdied his last two holes at St Andrews to share the lead with the unheralded Yates and Murphy.

Scotland's Yates, who lives in Thailand and plays mainly on the Asian tour, did not drop a shot round the Old Course, while Murphy conjured up seven birdies at Carnoustie despite spending much of the last two days in bed with flu.

Level with Clarke at five under were fellow Britons David Howell and Jamie Donaldson, and Ireland's Peter Lawrie.

Among a group of players locked together at four under par were former British Open champion Nick Price of Zimbabwe, New Zealand's Michael Campbell, Italian Costantino Rocca and Norway's Henrik Bjornstad, who managed a hole-in-one at Carnoustie's par-three 13th on the way to his 68.

Defending champion Padraig Harrington and world number three Vijay Singh made steady starts with level-par 72s, a shot better than surprise U.S. PGA champion Shaun Micheel and seven-times European number one Colin Montgomerie.

Montgomerie, who bogeyed the last hole at Carnoustie, slipped as he came out of the scorers' hut before turning round to give the offending step a couple of well directed kicks.

The Scot had to pull out of this year's British Open after damaging a wrist in a fall at his hotel but he appeared to avoid injury on this occasion.


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